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Teachers in Chicago go on strike can't our teachers learn from them or Kenya ?

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Mokerema, Sep 10, 2012.

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    Mokerema JF-Expert Member

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    Teacher Strike Begins in Chicago, Amid Signs That Deal Isn’t Close

    CHICAGO — Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district went on strike Monday morning after negotiations for a new contract collapsed, giving some 350,000 students an unexpected day off but leading to frustrations among parents and indications that a settlement may not be close.
    Chicago Public Schools and the union representing teachers have been embroiled for months in a bitter dispute over wages, job security and teacher evaluations.
    City officials said that negotiations had resumed Monday and that two issues remained unresolved: the fate of laid-off teachers and whether they ought to have priority in future job openings, and a new teacher evaluation system, which union leaders say would be based far too heavily on student test scores.
    The teachers’ union, however, said it remained at odds with the city over compensation, teacher training, health benefits and a schedule for air conditioning in all schools, as well as the evaluation system.
    Coming as the school year is in only its second week after the summer break, the strike has already affected hundreds of thousands of families who have had to rearrange work schedules, take the day off or hire baby sitters.
    Dondreia Talbert, the mother of a 4-year-old, Trae’verion, said on Monday that she was sympathetic to the teachers’ position but that she had misgivings about their walking out on students.
    “I know these teachers personally, and I see the work they do,” she said. “They deserve everything they’re asking for, and I hope they get it, but they should have never taken it to the strike level.”
    At Lane Tech College Prep, on the city’s North Side, most of the high school’s 250 teachers had already assembled by early Monday morning as they prepared to staff picket lines. They wore red union T-shirts and carried signs saying “Honk If You Love a Teacher.” Many passing motorists responded with incessant horn blowing.
    “We’re ready to stay out as long as it takes to get a fair contract and protect our schools,” said Steve Parsons, who teaches Advanced Placement psychology.
    Schools officials, visibly frustrated after talks broke off late Sunday, also expressed concern for students.
    “We do not want a strike,” David J. Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said late Sunday as he left the negotiations, which he described as extraordinarily difficult and “perhaps the most unbelievable process that I’ve ever been through.”
    Union leaders said they had been left with little choice.
    “This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
    Chicago is the first district in the state to try to put in place a new teacher evaluation system. In an interview last month, Ms. Lewis said: “We need to recommit ourselves to public education. I don’t mean training, narrowing the curriculum, which is what we’ve seen, to what’s testable or measurable.”
    Ms. Lewis said that teachers in schools serving impoverished communities would not be able to overcome other social factors that contribute to students’ performance on tests.
    “We have communities that have been neglected for decades, and all of a sudden we’re expecting something to happen in a vacuum,” she said. “I would like to see a commitment to bringing jobs and grocery stores, for God sakes, back into the communities that our children live in.”
    The strike has also found its way into the presidential campaign, with the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, releasing a statement on Monday saying that “teachers’ unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.”
    At Lane Tech on Monday, Karen Trine, a chemistry teacher, said she was worried about the prospect of students’ preparations for Advanced Placement tests being disrupted for an extended period because of the strike.
    “They’re just kids who want to do their jobs, which is to learn,” she said. “The kids were ready. We were ready. Everything was rolling.”
    And despite having a day off, some students went to school to back teachers. “There have been a lot of teachers who have impacted my life, so I just wanted to come out and support what they’re doing,” said Ola Wolan, a 17-year-old senior.
    The political stakes now may be highest for Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic mayor in a city with deep union roots. He took office last year holding up the improvement of public schools as one of his top priorities, but now faces arduous political terrain certain to accompany Chicago’s first public schools strike in 25 years.
    Late Sunday, Mr. Emanuel told reporters that school district officials had presented a strong offer to the union, including what some officials described as what would amount to a 16 percent raise for many teachers over four years — and that only two minor issues remained. “This is totally unnecessary, it’s avoidable and our kids do not deserve this,” Mr. Emanuel said, describing the decision as “a strike of choice.”
    For days, even as talks went on, Chicago had been bracing for the possibility of a teachers strike — the first since a 19-day stoppage in 1987. In recent days, hundreds of people have called the city’s 311 system and the Chicago Public Schools central offices with questions about whether a strike was coming, and what it would mean. A strike was not expected to affect the 45,000 students in the city’s charter schools, officials said.
    The school system, which employs about 25,000 teachers, announced contingency plans in the event of a strike, including a program to open 144 of its 675 schools with half-days of activities supervised by people other than unionized teachers. Officials said that program would also include meals — no small concern since 84 percent of the city’s public school students qualify for the free and reduced meals program.
    Ms. Lewis deemed the contingency proposal, which was expected to be able to accommodate at least 150,000 students, “a mess,” and suggested that school officials were expecting families to “put their children with random folks.” For its part, the union on Saturday opened a strike headquarters where members could begin collecting picket signs and other materials to prepare for a walkout.
    Negotiations have taken place behind closed doors since November, concerning wages and benefits, whether laid-off teachers should be considered for new openings, extra pay for those with more experience and higher degrees, and evaluations. District officials said the teachers’ average pay is $76,000 a year.
    School officials, who say the system faces a $665 million deficit this year and a bigger one next year, have worked to cut costs even as Mr. Emanuel has pressed for what he considers much-needed “comprehensive reform,” including a longer school day.
    Teachers have said they are being neglected on issues like promised raises, class sizes and support staff in the schools. By June, about 90 percent of teachers voted in favor of authorizing a strike if a new agreement could not be reached during the summer.
    While negotiators handled the private talks, Chicagoans watched what appeared to be a contentious, sometimes personal fight between two blunt and resolute personalities: Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Lewis, who has described the mayor in recent days as a “bully” and a “liar,” and in a recent interview added, “I think the whole idea of an imperial mayoralty where you wave a magic wand or cuss someone out and things happen is untenable.”
    Some parents said they were ultimately hopeful about the prospect of improvement in their children’s schools and eager for the changes advocated by Mr. Emanuel, whose own children attend private school. But others said that they thought teachers had been pushed hard, and that a standoff seemed inevitable.
    “He has a vision for what he wants,” Jacob Lesniewski, a parent, said of Mr. Emanuel, “and he’s not going to let anything get in his way.”
    Though students have suddenly found themselves at the start of what may become an extended vacation, not all of them were pleased about the prospect of a day — or more — without school.
    “It’s my first weeks of high school, and I don’t get to go,” said Autumn Schroeder, a 14-year-old freshman at Lane Tech. Instead, she said she would spend the day bowling with friends.

    Idalmy Carrera contributed reporting from Chicago, and Timothy Williams and Motoko Rich from New York.